The volcanic Jeju Island is now a popular honeymoon destination in South Korea, but has a darker history that has only relatively recently begun to be openly discussed: a little over seventy years ago it was the scene of a massacre. Residents of Jeju had been some of the most ardent resisters of Japanese rule and supporters of an independent Korea. In April 1948, violence broke out when the regime in Seoul started an anti-communist purge in Jeju. In The Mermaid from Jeju, Sumi Hahn has written a novel centered around the massacre and a community of haenyeo, or female deep-sea pearl divers who begin their work as young as age eleven.
Some years back, graphic novelist Keum Suk Gendry-Kim interviewed an elderly Korean woman named Lee Ok-sun. Gendry-Kim hoped to learn about social class and gender disparity during World War II and write a book about this subject. But after several interviews, Gendry-Kim realized Lee’s personal story warranted a book of its own. The result is Grass, a graphic novel now out in an English translation by Janet Hong.
Caroline Kim’s debut short-story collection The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories grew out of an identity crisis she suffered some fifteen years ago. How would her life have differed had her parents not left South Korea for the US? Would she look different and like different things than her Korean-American self? And what does it even mean to “be Korean”?
Union General William Tecumseh Sherman remarked during the American Civil War: “War is cruelty. You cannot refine it.” In Ghost Flames, former Associated Press (AP) reporter Charles J Hanley writes about the cruelty of the Korean War—and the impacts it had on some ordinary soldiers, civilians, and even some military commanders.
Korean American K-pop star Jessica Jung may have gotten her start as a singer and performer with the hit band Girls’ Generation, but now also has a fashion line and has modeled for make-up lines and magazine covers around the world. Her branding is reaching into film and television. And now she has a debut young adult novel, Shine.
Graphic novels, which less generous souls might call comic books, rarely feature middle-aged women and certainly not as the main characters. Not until, that is, Yeong-shin Ma wrote Moms, a graphic novel based on his mother and her friends. First published in Korea in 2015, it’s now available in an English translation by Janet Hong, whose name will be familiar to those in the know.
Se-oh Yun—a reclusive young woman in her twenties—comes home to a fire in her apartment in which her father is badly injured. He dies shortly after the incident and the police are eager to close the case as a simple suicide motivated by her father’s debts. But Se-oh suspects foul play when she learns that a debt collector, Su-ho, had visited her father earlier that day.